The evolution of the electric grid: Balancing a three-legged stool

The evolution of the electric grid: Balancing a three-legged stool

Have you ever felt like developments in the grid are evolving faster than you can keep up and you need a quick but comprehensive reference to keep you up to speed? Well, you're in luck. A new book from the Edison Foundation's Institute for Electric Innovation (IEI) features more than 20 essays by electric utility and technology company leaders, policymakers, and other stakeholders. The book, Thought Leaders Speak Out: The Evolving Electric Power Industry, focuses on three distinct and interrelated areas driving the transformation of the electric power industry today -- the evolving grid, the evolving customer, and evolving regulation.

The evolving grid, the evolving customer, and evolving regulation are all part of a three-legged stool that requires balance, according to IEI. Keeping these three legs in balance will ultimately help drive the sustainable evolution of the electricity grid.

"Today the electric utility industry -- a fundamental industry that powers our economy and our lives -- is in the midst of a profound transition," said Lisa Wood, book editor and executive director of the Institute for Electric Innovation and the book's editor. "The electric distribution grid is transforming at breakneck speed. In addition to its traditional role of delivering electricity to customers reliably and affordably, the grid is becoming a flexible platform for efficiently integrating new energy resources, new technologies, and new devices."

Utility and technology company leaders in the book report that the evolving grid will be data driven, relying on information technology overlays to enhance operations technology and improve reliability and resiliency. The evolving grid will enable efficient integration of new energy resources, more interactive customer services, and more choices. The grid is becoming more connected -- a Grid of Things -- as more devices and assets are connected to it.

"The growing connection between the Internet and the nation's energy delivery system holds the promise of unprecedented transformation for the electric industry," Pepco Holdings, Inc. Executive Vice President and General Counsel Kevin Fitzgerald points out in his essay. "Information technology sensors, microprocessors, software, and the like ('smart devices') are fast becoming integral parts of the electricity network. Stacking smart devices and the Internet on top of the energy delivery system will allow for greater monitoring, control, and optimization, ultimately leading to a self-healing grid."  

The electric utility customer is changing and driving change, the book points out with essays that focus on closing the gap between utility and customer perspectives on the electricity service that is central to everyday life. How will electric utilities, regulators, and technology companies collaborate to unlock the value in new customer service offerings?

An essay from Natural Resources Defense Council Energy Program Co-Director Ralph Cavanagh offers a glimpse.

"Inventors and venture capitalists have learned that it is far more productive to treat utilities as partners than adversaries," he writes. "For those committed to a clean energy future, utilities remain the most important investors. Technological progress in the electricity sector has been and remains much more about opportunities for grid enhancement than grid evasion."  

The essays on evolving regulations focus on the basic principles needed for a new regulatory paradigm -- one that is beginning to be discussed, but far from defined. The power grid is evolving. Customers are evolving. Electric utilities are changing. But, the regulatory model remains essentially unchanged.

"The grid that's evolved to become the heartbeat of America's economy is entering a transformation that will see it become more interactive and useful than ever before, not only producing and delivering electricity from generators, but also integrating and dispatching customer resources,"  NorthWestern Energy President and CEO and IEI Co-Chair Bob Rowe says in his essay. "The grid requires at least two things to thrive: regulation, both state and federal, because it provides essential services and is deeply 'affected with the public interest' and the customers it's meant to serve."

Source: Smart Grid News

Smart Grid Bulletin February 2019

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